BARchive: Homo Base

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Monday March 21, 2011
Share this Post:
Sara Lewinstein (left) with The 1980 Artemis Café softball team. Photo: courtesy Sara Waddell-Lewinstein
Sara Lewinstein (left) with The 1980 Artemis Café softball team. Photo: courtesy Sara Waddell-Lewinstein

Like a yin-yang of stalwart athleticism and Bacchan celebration, gay bars and gay sports have gone together for more than half a century.

Here in the Bay Area, the first gay sports event was actually organized by discreet lesbians in the 1950s, as documented in the first issue of The Ladder, the historic women's periodical.

By 1968, the Community Bowling League, sponsored by the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) held regular competitions at Park Bowl (which, sadly, was demolished in the '90s). By 1971, 22 teams competed locally.

Pool and billiards followed close behind in the late 1960s, as soon as gay bars began to establish themselves, with or without the then-needed police payoffs.

As disco swept popular culture in the 1970s, groovy recreational sports like the Bay Area's Gay Skate Night drew hip crowds.

But it was softball that really became the giant of gay sports, thanks to tireless organizers, coaches and fledgling jocks. The support of local gay-owned taverns like Sutter's Mill, the Pendulum, and other by one bars, was pivotal, and provided a perfect post-game social outlet.

As local gay newspapers, both the Bay Area Reporter and The Sentinel, documented the growing softball league in all its excitement and controversies, participants like the late Jack "Irene" McGowan fiercely penned expansive columns of victories and losses.

But the softball league at the time was men-only, until Sara Lewinstein, owner of The Artemis Caf, rounded up some pals and started what became a thriving women's softball league. Along with Rikki Streicher and her bar Maud's (and 12 years later, Amelia's), women-owned bars and cafes supported women's sports, creating a thriving community.

Meanwhile, Olympic decathlete Tom Waddell, when not competing in bar-sponsored flag football, worked with community members to raise funds for the first "Gay Olympics." (You know the story; after lawsuits and homophobic court decisions ensued, and they're called the Gay Games).

Lewinstein, whose legacy with the Gay Games not only includes the family she raised with and after Waddell. A decades-long softball coach and bowler, she's a recipient of numerous sports awards, and also now manages Serra Bowl in Daly City, where gay fundraisers and leagues frequently take to the lanes.

Mark Brown, who also aided the Gay Games movement, later became the Gay Softball League's commissioner, and an honored Hall of Famer. "There were so many good things that happened and went on during the '70s, which I must say, was a privilege for me to be a part of, not only as a player," said Brown, who turned 77 this year. He still coaches the Hustlers team, which enjoys sponsorship from the SF Powerhouse.

As the Gay Games continued overseas, competitors in swimming, wrestling and running communities held countless fundraising events at bars like the Pilsner Inn, Daddy's (now 440), The SF Eagle, in a tradition which continues today. As we mourn the loss of thousands from AIDS lost in past years, many a bar night will host a benefit for AIDS Life/Cycle riders. For many patrons, their local gay bar is the place where everybody knows your name, and your game.